The motherly power that speaks art

In a local museum there hangs a Bouguereau. It is a portrait of a young shepherdess. Her wrist hanging over the end of a pole is bent awkwardly, but perhaps suitably, after a laborious day. He skin is milky white—hardly a shadow caresses her cheek opposite the light. Her skin tone hints a kiss of coral-red from brow to elbow and light strikes her white garment with a gleam. Livestock roam behind her, grazing against a steep hill, and she projects certitude that the land is subdued.

I hear the painting intended to show the dignity of women in ordinary life. The shepherdess has a tilt of the chin that doesn’t indicate subservience, but strength and the power of stewardship.

I may not have a picturesque backdrop like in portraits of the academies, but I do see that same quiet dignity in Katie’s own vocation, labors, and strength. She holds our baby girl also with a slightly awkward turn of the wrist. But her smile speaks confidence in her ability to offer tender motherly care.

And it’s stronger now with our second child: I see an assurance that comes with experience, that all will be well. It is the strength that resides where muscle and brutishness can’t go, a place where dominion requires no domination. She just carries about tending to what is given her, me included, with a feminine power. Art come to life.

“Young Shepherdess” by Bouguereau

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